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County's cities handle their legal affairs differently

Staff writer

How cities across the county handle legal matters differs.

Marion consulted its attorney almost every day in January, spending $1,335 to do so.

Marion pays its attorney, Brian Bina, a rate of $150 an hour. Bina consults on city issues and serves as Marion’s prosecutor. His rate is the same for both. Karstetter & Bina, his firm, bills in six-minute increments.

Hillsboro pays an attorney a flat monthly fee of $1,800 for handling city issues. It pays another attorney to prosecute municipal cases — a total of $7,700 in 2022, city administrator Matt Stiles said.

Peabody also has two different attorneys — one for city issues and one for prosecution.

Stiles said its attorney, a lawyer from Wichita firm Triplett Woolf Garretson, has been working on behalf of the city since 2021. That firm also is the city’s bond counsel.

The city had tried to find a local firm, Stiles said, but “there wasn’t anyone who had the capacity or the interest.”

In Marion, Bina attends city council meetings only occasionally. Hillsboro’s attorney, Andrew Kovar, attends twice-monthly city council meetings as well as writes ordinances and resolutions, and represents the city in court.

The all-inclusive fee helps the city budget for legal expenses.

“We know what we’re going to pay,” Stiles said. “We know we’re going to have good legal representation. We think it’s a worthy investment.

“If I call Andrew every day, it doesn’t matter. It’s probably two to three times a week that I’m on the phone with him. It’s a pretty regular conversation.”

Stiles believes it’s important for Kovar to attend all council meetings because “even if you have very few things on the agenda, there always seems to be something that comes up,” he said. “I’d rather have a firm legal opinion at that time versus trying to make a decision without that. The consequences can be serious. It’s always better in my opinion to have legal counsel there.”

That’s especially true for executive sessions, Stiles said.

“The city attorney and I get invited into those most of the time,” Stiles said. “I think that’s a wise situation because that’s where you can get into a lot of trouble. You want to make sure all the right procedures are followed and ensure that you are operating within the law.”

Bina doesn’t regularly attend Marion meetings. He wasn’t present when the city council opted to fire city administrator Mark Skiles.

In Peabody, city attorney Zachary Strella, also with Karstetter & Bina, usually bills between $900 and $1,000 a month, city clerk Taylor Ensminger said. The city’s contract with Strella started Jan. 30.

“I consulted with the previous attorney quite frequently, but I haven’t with the new attorney,” Ensminger said.

Strella doesn’t attend all meetings but does come to “a good portion of them, particularly when we’re talking about adopting new ordinances,” she said.

She remembered a few executive sessions when the previous attorney sat in, particularly regarding matters involving non-elected personnel.

Peabody uses Wichita lawyer Michael Cleary for prosecuting municipal cases. He hadn’t billed the city in 2022, but in 2021, the average monthly bill was $900 to $1,000, Ensminger said.

Last modified Feb. 22, 2023

 

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